Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Biblical Doctrine of Divorce and Remarriage: Part 1 of 3

Definition and Clarification of Terms:

1. Marriage is the lawful union of a husband and wife (1 Cor. 7:2), ordained by God (Matt. 19:4-6) and consummated according to the legal system to which the couple is amenable, as long as it does not conflict with the divine will (Rom. 13:1-5; cf. Acts 5:29). However, not all “marriages” are sanctioned by God even if recognized by civil law (e.g. Mark 6:17-18; 10:11-12).

2. Divorce is the dissolution of marriage. The NT Greek verb apolúō (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9) means to “let go, send away, dismiss … divorce” (BAGD 96). The verb chōrízō (Matt. 19:6; Mark 10:9; 1 Cor. 7:10, 11a, 15, 16) means “to sever, disunite … to dissociate one’s self, to part” (H. K. Moulton, Lexicon 441); “act. divide, separate … pass. separate (oneself), be separated [of divorce]” (BAGD 890). This particular Greek term may simply refer to a separation, or it could be synonymous with divorce, as the separated state is described as “unmarried” (1 Cor. 7:11b) and is parallel to aphíēmi (v. 11c). However, “abandon” is also a plausible nuance (cf. Mark 14:50). The verb aphíēmi (1 Cor. 7:11c, 12, 13) means to “let go, send away … divorce … abandon” (BAGD 125-26). As with marriage (above), a divinely authorized divorce would have a fundamentally different meaning than a divorce God does not approve (e.g. Matt. 5:31-32).

3. Adultery involves voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his/her lawful spouse. The noun moicheía (John 8:3), the verb moichaō (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12), and the verb moicheúō (Matt. 5:17; 19:18; Rom. 2:22) are all related. The secondary sense, used figuratively of spiritual adultery, is applied to the relationship between God and his erring people (cf. Jer. 3:6-9; Ezek. 16:32; Hos. 3:1; 4:12; Jas. 4:4), but when used with reference to a man and a woman, it refers to illegitimate sexual intercourse (cf. Lev. 20:10; 18:20; Deut. 22:22; Prov. 6:32; Matt. 5:28; John 8:3; Heb. 13:4).

4. Fornication or Sexual Immorality (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) is translated from the Greek noun porneia, used generally “of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse” (BAGD 693). In its singular form it refers to the specific sex act, whether with a woman, man, child, horse, etc. Under this broad umbrella term would be specific types of porneia, such as adultery, incest, homosexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, etc. The bottom line is that porneia is any kind of sexual intercourse that is not within the context of marriage as defined above. While the English word “pornography” is derived from the Greek porneia, viewing pornographic images does not constitute the sexual intercourse that is required for porneia to have occurred.1

Relevant Scriptures:

1. Genesis 1:27; 2:24. These are the passages Jesus quotes in Matt. 19:4-5, demonstrating God’s design for marriage from the beginning involving the joining together of a man and woman for life in a monogamous relationship. Becoming “one flesh” indicates a sexual union that establishes an intimate connection between two previously unrelated individuals. This “one flesh” bonding is the basis of God’s categorical denunciation of all other types of sexual activity (cf. 1 Cor. 6:16-18; 7:2).

2. Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This is an example of casuistic or case law (if  then): the case is presented in vv. 1-3, and the ruling is given in v. 4. This passage assumes the prevalence of divorce among the Israelites at the time of writing (cf. 22:19, 29; Lev. 21:7, 13, 14), and only the husband could initiate the divorce. However, the provision of divorce was not a divine injunction but a concession due to “obstinacy or “hardness of heart (Matt. 19:8; Mark 10:5). The certificate of divorce served to protect women from unscrupulous husbands and the precarious charge of adultery, but it went far beyond God’s intended purpose (cf. Gen. 2:24; Mal. 2:16). Centuries later the rabbis debated the meaning of the expressions no favor and some indecency in Deut. 24:1; the school of Shammai insisted that sexual impurity was the necessary prerequisite for divorce, while the school of Hillel maintained that any trivial offense was sufficient grounds. Jewish opinion was heavily divided in the days of Jesus, prompting the question in Matt. 19:3. Nevertheless, they were focusing on and debating what Jewish men of the past were doing rather than the stated will of God.

3. Malachi 2:11-17. Between the first return from Babylonian exile (538 BC) and the second return (458 BC), Israelite men (including priests) had married local pagan women and were then compelled to put them away with what appears to have been divine approval (Ezra 9–10; cf. Neh. 13:23-30). But the background is that they had divorced their lawful wives to marry these pagan women (Mal. 2:10-17). From Malachi 2 we learn that God “hates divorce”2 (v. 16) because it (a) is contrary to his original plan (v. 15); (b) results from profane desires and weakens a nation (v. 11); (c) breaks covenant vows (v. 14); (d) involves betraying the innocent spouse (v. 14); (e) causes separation from God (vv. 12, 13); and (f) accompanies spiritual self-deception (v. 17). 

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Although pornography is not “fornication,” it is still sinful, not only because of its addictiveness and the other immoral thoughts and behavior it inevitably leads to (Rom. 6:19; Jas. 1:14-15; 2 Pet. 2:18-19), but its inherently selfish, lustful, lewd, objectifying nature is utterly contrary to the mental and moral purity that God expects of his children (Matt. 5:28; Gal. 5:16-17; Eph. 4:17-20; 1 Thess. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:19-22; 1 John 2:15-17).
     2 This reading is based on the Masoretic Hebrew Text (cf. ISV, N/ASV, N/KJV, N/RSV), whereas the LXX, Targum, Arabic versions, and Latin Vulgate read, “but if he should hate [and] send her away (cf. ESV, HCSB, NIV). 

Related Posts: Divorce & Remarriage Part 2, Part 3Premarital DecisionsJesus on Divorce and RemarriageDelusion of Gay MarriageIf God hates divorce, what about Ezra 9-10?

Related articles: Wes McAdams' Moving in Together

Image credit:


  1. Bro. Moore,

    Are you going to deal with the situation where a spouse has put away his/her spouse for fornication (Mt. 19:9) and if it is scripturally allowed for the spouse to remarry the original spouse that was put away for fornication?

    1. The next two posts consider the relevant New Testament scriptures. I believe 1 Cor. 7:11 addresses the question you've asked. The implicit prohibition in Matt. 19:9 concerns marrying "another."